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Monday, 16 April 2012

Remains of the day….

So we have to make a DVD of the children's yearly exploits in lieu of a letter, because their birth parents are illiterate. This is theoretically easier than writing a letter, because filmed actions speak louder than words. Which of course in the children’s case is actually harder because there only so many unedited highligts of D attacking children in the dodgems and pushing them into lakes that you can put on one Maxell 90 minute disc and not give the parents the idea he and M are not evil X Men.

I wrote earlier that one of my first ever grieving episodes was saying goodbye to being young and married without little children, and all their demands. I had a young teen step daughter who was able to go off shopping on her own at key moments in my day, when I wanted to be with my wife and whisper sweet nothings, or order a large coffee and Danish over the Telegraph in Costa, so she doesn’t count. All new parents probably feel this way at times.

But bigger loss was en route. One of them was filming the aforementioned first DVD. We had gone to one of Luton's many charming municipal parks, called Leon Trotsky Mews or whatever left leaning councils call them. You may be surprised that Luton isn’t all latte outlets, excellent travel links and racial harmony. This park was obviously visited after dark by evil teenage hoodies of doom, because the floor was littered with bits of drug paraphernalia and fast food wreckage.

Your average Luton park

Which D kept putting in his mouth. He literally scooted around the playground, quicker than we could keep up, popping anything he saw into his gob. I’m telling you, anything from bits of masticated hamburger to cannabis scented clingfilm to cat poo. Or his favourite- discarded chewing gum. You try shouting "No!” whilst gagging, filming, and having your heart broken because you know Theres Something Wrong. Lots of 2/3 year olds do the “I can eat anything” thing, but this seemed different because he was on a mission. This oral fixation came before using the slide, or the swings. He really did want to eat the contents of the bin over anything else.

On top of the smashed up house. Some parents say “My kids smash up the house” but they don’t. They just pour out Thomas the Tank Engine and freinds over the wooden floor during Yummy Mummy coffee morning. On one of our first “dates” since the children came we went to a Harpenden Shaker theme gastropub (but only for coffee, comrades) and saw these five mothers arrive for a lunch together. They had state of the art buggies, children who appeared to be in a medically induced coma, and they were all wearing skinny jeans and North Face fleeces and looked like Hollwood A listers. Which did make us think whether they were filming “The Stepford Wives 2: The Nicoise Salad Takeover”. How any parent of young kids doesn’t have perma-yoghurt on their top is beyond me. We looked like survivors of an air crash.

In Harpenden We saw them

Some punk bands talked a bit about anarchy and smashing things up, but to my knowledge, the only band who really did this- at least on TV- were The Damned, who, on playing live once on TV really did smash everything up in the first 30 seconds, till all that was left was the bass player, utterly confused, still knocking out the riff on his own. Likewise D and M really did smash up the house. During their waking hours it was nappies where they were changed, food where it was thrown, excrement where it was smeared, and….bits of Daddys and Mummys stuff rolling where they were discovered. All our stuff.

I cried like a baby in the car after attempting to film. Proper crying we men don’t like to talk about. There was snot and hyperventilating and high pitched hooting.  

I had always enthused about running headlong into doing Kingdom, and I had always wanted to do Kingdom as a lifestyle and a 24 hour living thing, rather than a hobby after long office hours in some dreadful capitalist corporate deathburger office. But I had forgotten that doing Kingdom does not generate a mountaintop experience of being near Jesus and being empowered by the Holy Spirit all the time. It’s living in the Valley and turning up, mostly.

And its costs are more subtle and difficult than you think. Certain costs of adopting we were cheerful about (maybe the children communicating with and later seeing their birth parents) and others were bearable ( time out to see them get therapy). But realising that the children were not going to be as convenient or controllable as we wanted was a dark revelation. And then seeing my son being unable to be filmed, because he moved so fast and what he moved towards was the infected filth off the floor, that was too much. This “something wrong” was going to negate milestones in our journey with him I had already built a myth around in my head. His graduation. His great job. His future functional relationship with a girlfriend we could connect with.

The footage we did film was hyper edited montages of the back of his head. We added a soundtrack of Keane and some other pop tunes, and did it on the Mac so it had this semi professional loading screen and menu. But it still looked like the footage from Cloverfield, not Little House on the Prairie.

I think the mistake is that we were trying to insert extraordinary kids into an ordinary world.

Here's two stories about the interface problem:

One of our first holidays was Butlins. We were thinking; busy, child friendly themed place, plenty going on, nice chalet on top of the attraction. All true. But the swarming crowds got D over excited. There's plenty going on if you have reasonable people skills, but a howling wilderness of tumbleweeds if you are an angry, frightened little boy who is being oppositional. The nice chalet will work with children who: a) Arent hyper b) Like you c) Like themselves.

D was struggling with all of these. The door handles were helpfully made low for little hands- little functional hands who eager to obey Mummy and Daddy, that is. So D spent all night running through all the rooms, so we had to barricade the ensuite, the connecting bedrooms, and the front door. In the morning, the chalet looked genuinely like we had survived Night of the Living Dead. There were sofas standing on end and chairs stacked against every window and exit.

Butlins, 7am

A later day out ended in a fish and chip meal. This was a day where we felt D coud have a day off from his nappy, so the sea air could circulate on his nether regions through his shorts. We found this deluxe chippy that offered seating and an extensive menu with all kinds of seafod pies and gubbins. Classy. It was heaving, which is always a good sign. So we sat on our table, which was placed so close to the others it was almost a bench seat, and duly ordered our meals. Midway through D announced he needed the toilet. He said it with a pained expression, midway between Eureka and a migraine. Slighty red in the face.

All too late we realised that him wanting the toilet had morphed into doing the toilet. Sans nappy. Number 2. The offending artefact somehow exited his bottom and his shorts and landed intact on the floor, not unlike a lunar module. As people ate and laughed either side of us. In a lightning bout of telekinesis, we clocked what had happened and reached for the napkins. Then I did what all Christian men who are committed to being head of the family and decisive action do. I let my wife deal, while I pretended to study my haddock. She had to scoop up the turd, scoop up D, and while I watched M and tried to encourage her not to talk about the smell and what D had done (with that over happy, reasonable, attentive face we do to stop kids crying after a fall, or talking about bodily functions while the bishop is visiting) my poor wife went into the women's toilets for the biggest environmental cleanup since the BP Deepwater Horizon crisis. 

Somehow nobody twigged.

But the biggest grievance is looking back on how we reacted and how we construed D's behavour as bad, without taking time to understand. Most adopted kids come “emotionally retarded”- that is, years emotionally and socially behind their years. And the rest of their challenging behaviour is trauma. But for me especially, the "importance" and indulgence of my trauma was coming way ahead of  the importance of understanding D's.

But I wasn’t alone in my global lack of grasping the situation. We had jettisoned from church because that couldn't work with this new routine of trying to keep the children calm, from attacking each other and prebenting falls down cavernous stairwells. Abandoning our lovely, small, intimate, meditational cell church- and creating hurt there in doing so- we had gone to the local uber church, where we sat in the aircraft hangar like childrens room playing with toys, missing all the input and ministry upstairs. Fewer friends were calling round now, as the event horizon of the childrens arrival had come and gone. By now parents of newborns had packed away the gifts and sold the crap ones on Ebay. Nobody beyond our mothers had twigged that we needed the visit and the practical help more than ever- and for ever- and could do with a visit or phone call every day.

Because why do Christian's like me- and I'm talking people who see the Sermon on the Mount and finally twig Jesus is actually asking we engage and sacrifice- why do we want the  Kingdom as a clip on accessory to “real life”, like something from "Claires" or "Accessorize"? Why do we still view real life as the 60 hour a week dehumanizing rearranging- deckchairs- on- the- Titanic job? And are our jobs relevant or in sympathy with the Kingdom? Or if we are lucky enough to love our job, why do we give that the best of our youth, hours , strength, peak mental ability and passion? And save the tired, not- angry- yet- but- wil- be- the- next- thing- that- goes- wrong reserves for Jesus?

It could be because we go to some anodyne church and have a home group that sticks to safe coasts. That says - by commison or omission- thats its okay to live in 64 Acacia Avenue and do radical things on Wednesday nights unless there's a better offer. Do as much as we are comfortable and happy with before drawing the bolts home. Well, that was me anyway. In a good season, actually.

And if that is the scene regarding time and physical application of the Sermon on the Mount, what about the emotional side? Only looking back now, four months into God doing a miracle in D and healing and calming him (in relative terms) do I see how focused on myself I was. How unwilling to go the extra mile, how unwilling to try to understand the forgiving "seventy times seven" package, how unwilling to give up the right to be hurt, depressed, angry, and lacking patience. And thus now having regret. Seeing how foul I have been to the children and to my wife all those years. Realising I still have to build the discipline and pray for the ability to “be present” with my children- play with them, rather than share a room. Engage in the woods rather than walk behind them with the dog. Etc.

Forwards in time from those painful early days and now we have an offer from Evangelical Alliance (not a natural bedfellow at face value) to be part of an awesome national adoption project. Their leader Krish Kandia and his team have a vision to inspire, motivate and train up at least one family in every UK evangelical church to be adopters. If this were to happen, the thousands of children waiting to be adopted- the whole waiting list- would vanish overnight.

Its so awesome Im going to repeat this. Let it soak in your spirit. If one family from every UK evangelical church (in the general sense, to avoid a whole new blog entry) were to be come adopters, all the children waiting for adption in the UK would be placed in a family home.

Humanly speaking it is naïve. But I think its got God all over it.

By being part of this we will seek to support families who are struggling and loosing hope. We will endeavor to prep families with all they need to know about support prior to adoping children. To prep people about how to prepare emotionally and develop a mindest that will adapt and grow with the children, no matter how damaged they are. And aside from all that we feel the best thing any adoptive family could have is one or two other families who are raised up with them- not to physically adopt, but to offer a lifetime of support and respite and a shoulder to cry on and a hug and a coffee and a beer. On tap 24/7. And that these families are see as one entity.

Yes, it’s a big ask. Most people would be more willing to be on a time heavy coffee rota and open and shut church buildings than do this. But the support is the key. Doing it within our unenlightened mindset, and the small resources of our family nearly killed us and broke the placement.

You don't put that in a Joel Osteen DVD.

Spare. Me.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Counter Intuition……

Aware that on this day especially, the net is awash with excellent articles on Easter Sunday. So I will be brief.

All I can say is I’m glad. I’m glad that Jesus died for all the evil things I have done, and that he cared enough to do it. I'm not talking about overeating or breaking wind in a lift, either. In the clip below Im referring to stuff from 1.28 onwards.... 

And that in doing it, I was given scope to be forgiven and healed and rescued from being me, daily, and eternally.

If Good Friday was not good at the time, but the seeming death of goodness, and Easter Saturday was this bleak non day where people sat staring into space, without hope…..Easter Sunday was the great reversal.

Death couldn’t hold Jesus. And so he came back from the dead. But he didn’t show off and go on to vindicate himself before the whole world, but only to a select few. The first batch were some Jewish women the Gospels can’t even fully agree on naming. The latter were the nearly disbanded disciples.

satan (and the missing capital is intentional; the name is a job title, and it just means “obstructer/ opposer/accuser”) had intended to destroy Jesus and one one hand, he did. Jesus, as known in the first round, was gone. And dispatched terribly, his back whipped to the bone, beaten up, and finally nailed up naked. But satan had been out thought and outloved. The great reversal- what appeared to be the end of everything was just the beginning.

Does this clip help illustrate?

Paul says in Collosions 2 v15 “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”

I don’t think anybody playing by the rules of logic can say that Jesus has not made the biggest impact on the world since its creation:

"Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher…He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself. . . …While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against Him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth—His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend……Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress…….I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life."

And if all that is true, what can it mean?

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (C.S. Lewis)

I’m a Christian, and since I took this road I’ve been resuced from myself a million times, I have been loved into an ongoing wholeness, I have been blessed with a wonderful family, and I have been given wisdom. Its all been free, as well.

This bloke sums it up pretty well……

Friday, 6 April 2012

Death is Dead…

I touched my first and only corpse when I was a catering student in a Blackpool Hospital.  

The “Who Cares” death

They thought I needed to see more of the world than vats of municipal stew, so I did brief stints in different departments. One of them was with the hospital porters, who had a job called the Silver Bullet run. When doctors had pronounced somebody dead, and presumably no relatives were coming, the body would be collected in this silver coffin on wheels. So I rocked up with this other bloke and moved this (still warm) old lady. Even though she was tiny, she seemed to weigh a ton. We did it as respectfully as we could behind the ominous drawn curtain, and then wheeled her down the endless corridors to the morgue.

But it didn’t really affect me. Who was she to me? (I hope I don’t go out unmourned like that)

I have been around death a fair bit.

The “Near Miss” death

As I child I had one near death experience. This town called Baldock had just built a new leisure centre, opened by the Queen no less, and it had one of the UK’s first wave machines. I used to go there all the time.

But the first time I didn’t realise that this wave machine was serious, not just some splashy pile of plop. The warning chimes went off and I stayed where I was. It started quickly and before I knew it I wasn’t rising with the waves any more, but getting thrown from foaming peak to foaming peak like a human shuttlecock. Soon I had a few serious mouthfuls of water, and they kept coming until I began to sink. I realised- sleepily, surreally- that I was probably going to die. I felt a strange calm.

The next thing was that I had been pulled out by this lifeguard, and was lying on the poolside, coughing. He had been doing his job, watching the cocky children, and saved my life. The everydayness of the incident blew me away; he just asked if I was okay, and I sheepishly said I was. He scanned me, and let me get back in after the waves had gone.

I thought there would be some kind of near death inquest, forms to be filled in, my hysterical mother shipped in by limousine, and numerous phone calls to Psycho Wave Machines Inc, by her royal highness. But there was only climbing back in to the roars of laughter of my friends.

Only at Baldock Leisure Centre

I had two or three potentially near death experiences, because I’m a wazuk.

I lived in Botswana briefly and went to the local school (yes, yes, okay, the Redskin Joe one).

During the morning break I liked nothing better than the game called “crawl through the rain culvert and kick away some boarding at the end”. This involved what it said- crawling through a corrugated metal tube about 2 feet in diameter, set into a concrete bridge in a rain trench, and kick the hastily assembled boards 20 metres down at the other end. I always wondered why the African kids weren’t playing it, and it was only the sunburnt British kids and this mad Dutch kid, who thought it was great.

Well- that would have been due to the possible Black Mamba snakes, scorpions, and the general cornucopia of evil wildlife that like nothing better than a cool culvert to hide in. I had about seven great days of endlessly going in and out the tunnel, before the staff room decided to investigate the small crowd of over excited expats on the edge of the playing field who gathered every day…..

“Who is it?”

“Its that mad Dutch child, some other colonial loonies, and…oh, the permanently red and sweaty kid with Spanish copper hair?”

“That really annoying one who kept on about there being a Spitfire wreck in the bushes, until we all had to go out, and found it was the control panel from a digger and some old flowerpots?”


“Right. He's dead”

Minutes later, a hyperventilating teacher hauled me out by my ear and asked if I ate lead based paint as a hobby. Looking back, I was lucky to have lived.

Not in the school bushes

 Another time I was in a car bombing down a road. After a corner, we saw a car transporter backing into a scrapyard. We slammed on the anchors in this old MK1 Fiesta, but nothing happened for a long, long time. We ended up feet from a sure decapitation, when the brake drums finally found a grip. It was new underpants all around.

The “End of an Era” death

1996 was a bad year. I lost both grandparents at either end of it. My grandfather went into very quick decline while in hospital. I was in Bible College, and it took my mother ages to convince the religious cupcake on the end of the phone that I might have to be excused from the ponderous sermon of the director. Somebody dropped me at Swansea bus station so I could get the national Express coach to Stevenage. The ride took forever, and I was too late getting there. He had passed. I hadn’t had a chance to say anything.

A similar situation with my grandmother. She collapsed and died one Christmas Eve before I arrived for a family Christmas. She was long gone when I arrived from my delivery job.

I couldn’t say all that needed saying, and I was robbed of two of the best people in the world. I don’t know whether it is a good or bad thing that as the seasons turn that I see more and more of the wisdom they lived by, the wisdom I wrote off as boring at the time. It’s a dead victory, getting it now, now I cant discuss it with them.

Their simple life, stripped from all yearning and intrigue. The choosing of jobs that weren’t exciting or taxing so they had quality mental time for family. The quiet anarchy of my grandfather, telling his ship building foreman to get stuffed when he was told he had to put his hand up to go to the toilet like a little boy, the “sure as eggs are eggs” disdain and daily rebellion he showed his officers during the war (even though he never spoke of it), ensuring he was never promoted. At the end of the war, when they thought he had learnt his place, they offered him a Commission in India, and he said “no thanks” and went to work as a storeman in Jones Cranes for 40 years. I mean, probably just to see the pipe fall from the mouth of Colonel Fortress-Buttress.

I'd rather eat my own eyeballs, sir

I never had chance to high five him. Etc.

The “Up Close and Personal” death

Two members of the band I was in died long before their time. One was only 17. He died in an awful car crash.

The other, whom I was much closer to, committed suicide. He committed suicide in the same manner and exact same place as his father, although his father was unsuccessful in finding death and only managed to massively damage his brain. My mother used to look after him in a psychiatric hospital.

My friend had been a drug addict a long time, and I hadn’t realised. I hadn’t seen him for some time. I don’t know whether I could have done anything or not, but I know two things; his suicide, like all suicides, was a final solution to a temporary problem, and his dying destroyed his family and has haunted me daily. I can’t tell you how much I miss him. His missing form the world has made it a sadder pace.

I stood with some dear friends at 6.00am this morning, watching the sunrise in the Milton Keynes Tree Cathedral with my little boy. We were having a Good Friday celebration service, remembering Jesus’ death.

For the first time, I was actually quite moved. Before, Good Friday services were either tied up in dead, stupid, systematic theology, so the whole thing sounded like some business transaction on Pluto, or I was too overwhelmed with truth that I numbed myself.

I was thinking about the manner of Jesus’ death, and the people behind it. The Jewish chief priests and ruling council, most of whom probably – at some level- knew Jesus was the Messiah, conspired to kill him in the most dishonest and foul way. They were furious and inconvenienced that His coming and mission did not include ministerial upgrades, parties for their type of person, or a rabid Jewish war God on top of an elephant leading legions of angels to destroy the Romans.

Pontius Pilate, the empirical top dog of the area, who claimed he did not know truth and – humanly speaking- had the choice of life or death over Jesus. At one stage in the story there is a faint hope that you think he may let Jesus go- John 19 verses 6-13......but he doesn’t.

I am reminded on a great film called Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise.

It tells the story of the plot to kill Hitler by Wehrmacht officers and German politicians and Police during WW2. The characters devise a cunning plan to kill Hitler and then remove the Nazi state by the titular code name. Under the premise that the SS have attempted to kill Hitler, regular German troops put Berlin into lockdown and arrest all Nazi state apparatus and SS command chains. There is something astonishing about the images of German soldiers arresting Nazis and driving them away in trucks. You feel the end of the war, and the horror of Nazism, is at hand.

Finally, the whole outcome of the situation, and especially the fate of the vile Goebbels, rests on the orders of a German army officer. Will he believe Valkyrie is real, and (effectively) end the war- or will he go with Goebbels?

He chooses wrong, of course. And commits Europe to years more death and misery.

But Pilate…can you image the scene if he stared at Jesus, saw who He really was, and realisation dawns on his face? His orders shouted to his officers?

“Centurion! Raise the guard! Disperse this crowd and put this Jesus in a cell for His own protection! And bring me the chief priests and that lowlife Herod- now”

I’m aware the analogy is deeply flawed, and the fact Pilate was a self serving, spiritual coward was in our best interests because he killed Jesus and thus allowed our reconciliation and forgiveness on the cross…..but I’m driving at something else.

That were all too scared, and loaded with selfish agenda and immutable worldviews, too take the time to look at death and what it could mean for our life now, and in eternity.

Geoff the Mad Calvinist

One of my Bible College teachers, an ordained minister, was mad. Even though he was an arch Calvinist, and made us read this sick tome called Los Berkhof’s Systematic Theology- which I called “a spiteful, smug pile of poodle vomit” for short- he was OK.


His preaching was unhinged, and involved visual props. One service he acted out Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the tomb by opening a broom closet and unleashing tons of badly stowed mops and buckets. You had to be there.

Anyway, apparently during funeral services he would scream at the grave of the departed, saying "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15 v55)

Yes, it’s inappropriate. Yes, he is hijacking somebodies last mortal exit to insert a potentially misapplied scripture. Yes, one would wonder whether he had a catastrophic mental illness.

But he was on to something. There is something disgusting and cruel about death. I would like to see its arse kicked and humiliated, along with its awful minions, like cancer. He was angry. And he wasn’t going to let polite smalltalk and sentimental time wasting niceties clog up a liminoid event.

Death is the big cheese. I would wager it is the most leveling, frightening, loaded, theory busting, put your money where your mouth is thing on Earth (and beyond). Nobody who has time to consider its arrival even for a millisecond is cocky, or so sure of their creed (or not) they are unmoved.

But I’m sure of this. People who follow Jesus don’t have to be scared of it. It holds no power because we believe that we go on.

It also makes sense of all the other deaths, some of which I have alluded to, because a number of amazing things happened on the cross.

I felt frightened and alone and confused by most of the above brushes and themes of death, if not at the time, in reflection now.

People like me call Good Friday good because of what God did for us. But none of the followers of Jesus thought it good at the time. It felt like the end of the world and that all the good in the world had gone forever.

It is that feeling of desperate hopelessness that is destroyed in the cross and what happened next…but we have Saturday to go through first.